A Kathakali performance of ‘Nalacharitham Onnaam Divasam' in the capital city saw the actors do justice to the improvisational possibilities within the attakatha.
Inimitable Malayalam poet Unnayi Warrier re-created the story of King Nala from the Mahabharata in the form of ‘Nalacharitham' attakkatha envisaging performance time of four full nights. It became quite popular with connoisseurs even though only select portions of the play are mostly staged. Rasikas seem to love the story for its astonishing literary and musical qualities, crowned by infinite possibilities of creative improvisation in acting appropriate to the subtle features of characters in the play.
No strict chitta
Unlike Kottayathu Thampuran's four famous plays, no strict convention or chitta has come to be crystallised with regard to standards to be adhered to in staging Warrier's composition. Preceptors hold the clear view that there is precious little in ‘Nalacharitham' to be taught or practised in the kalari. Improvisations should, ideally, emanate on the spot from the interaction of the immediate context of presentation and the creativity or imagination of the artiste. As such, only few scenes are selected from ‘Nalacharitham' for training or practice in kalari in institutions like Kerala Kalamandalam. Drisyavedi in Thiruvananthapuram recently organised an enjoyable presentation of the first four scenes in Part I of ‘Nalacharitham'. Kalamandalam Balasubrahmanian, Margi Vijayakumar, Kottakkal Ravi Kumar, Thonnakkal Peethambaran and Margi Sukumaran donned the roles of Nala, Damayanti, Hamsam, Narada and Damayanti's companion, respectively.
Balasubrahmanian excelled in emotional acting that maintained perfect harmony with the music and orchestra so as to convince the rasika that Kathakali is thrimadhuram (triple the sweet), consisting of perfection in acting, music and instrumental accompaniment. Balasubrahmanian handled with laudable skill and confidence the imaginative acting (manodharma abhinaya) that filled the interlude after the departure of Sage Narada, the unique soliloquy commencing with ‘Kundinanaayaka nandini…' and elicitation of more and more details of his beloved Damayanti, from the golden swan (Hamsam). Charming postures and excellently choreographed kalasams (dance-passages interspersing narration) introduced in tune with the pragmatic situation stood him in comfortable stead throughout the programme. While delineating pangs of love, he took care to ensure at every point to be within the prescribed limits of ‘naatyadharmi' (features germane to classical performance). On the whole he did justice to the playwright's and rasikas' concept of the character Nala.
Margi Vijayakumar's presentation of Damayanti, the beautiful princess yearning for union with her hero, was superb. Kottakkal Ravikumar's Hamsam was both lovely and lively, as it should be. His interaction with both the hero and the heroine brought out the relevant emotional tones the playwright might have had in his mind.
Kottakkal Madhu, ably supported by Kalamandalam Rajesh Menon, rendered the uniquely textured padams and quatrains of Unnayi Warrier into mellifluous music duly embellished with sangatis that illuminated the action on the stage. Chenda and maddalam, handled ambidextrously by Kottakkal Prasad and Margi Rathnakaran respectively, provided the ambience congenial to the performance.
Keywords: Nalacharitham Onnaam Divasam